The Super Eagles of Nigeria are suddenly soaring at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote d’ Ivoire and Nigerians are pleasantly surprised by the unexpected resurgence in the team. At the end of their opening match against Equatorial Guinea, only a few Nigerians believed the Super Eagles would survive the group stage. But today, the story is different as the rejuvenated Eagles didn’t only progress from group A but soared high into the semi-finals.
The good news is that apart from the achievement of semi-final ticket, the Super Eagles have put up brilliant displays to emerge as favourites to win the trophy. At the moment, there is no team in Cote d’ Ivoire that can boast of the Super Eagles’ pedigree in the tournament. Interestingly, since their victories over the Elephants of Cote d’ Ivoire and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon the Eagles have been amazing. They now play with a swagger because they believe more in themselves. No wonder, one of the key ingredients for victory or success is self-confidence. The Super Eagles have it in sufficient quantity to prosecute the 2023 AFCON.
Therefore, most Nigerian football fans are now rooting again for the team. One good thing about the fans is their ability to forgive the Super Eagles anytime they show remorse for all the pains they inflicted on them in the past. So, almost every football fan in Nigeria is singing the praises of the players because they have agreed to repent of their transgressions. This is why some of us laugh, when the players decide to play the victim even after breaking the hearts of Nigerians. Whenever they are harshly criticised, they make it look as if the fans are refusing to appreciate their efforts. This is far from the truth because Nigerian football fans are magnanimous and hardly hold back their praises when they are given what they deserve.
Going by what the Super Eagles are doing right now, it will be hard for anyone to just castigate and lambast the players. Each of them is giving his all for the country. They showed the true Nigerian spirit against the Elephants, they sustained the tempo against arch-rivals Cameroon and maintained it in Friday’s quarter-final with Angola. It is, indeed, difficult to fault the way the Super Eagles are playing right now. Every player has come to the AFCON party ready to spill blood for victory. Since that opening day fixture, the Super Eagles have produced the best defensive record by not conceding any goal in four matches. They also have a settled midfield and a deadly attack being led by the energetic Victor Osimhen, who is the reigning African Footballer of the year.
Talking about Osimhen’s overwhelming contribution to the team’s success so far in Cote d’ Ivoire, it is necessary to mention a few more players who have also distinguished themselves. Before now, nobody could believe that Alex Iwobi can survive the hard work he is doing presently. In fact, he was nicknamed ‘ajebota’ by many because of the lack of physicality in his game. In the same vein, many questioned Ademola Lookman’s constant inclusion in the team over his unconvincing performances. However, the man from Serie A is becoming the team’s marksman. He scored twice against the almighty Lions of Cameroon and his goal against Angola handed the Super Eagles the first semi-final ticket of the 2023 AFCON. Lookman is now next to Osimhen in terms of popularity in the Super Eagles.
And after exhibiting so much laxity in national team colours, Ola Aina, is showing that he is one of the best attacking wing backs in the world. The Nottingham Forest man is a delight to watch with the ball at his feet. He makes defending look so easy with his sleek moves and exquisite passes. Then Moses Simon used the encounter with Angola to tell Nigerians that there is another mesmeriser in the Super Eagles after Victor Moses. Even the towering Semi Ajayi that many nick-named ‘shaky shaky’ due to his obvious lack of confidence has shown so much improvement. He has been rock solid in the defence where he is being guided by the more experienced Williams Troost-Ekong.
And most importantly, the timely arrival of Stanley Nwabali can be likened to a divine intervention. Maybe God heard the cries and prayers of Nigerians and decided to send someone to save them in the hands of Francis Uzoho. Without attempting to undermine his contributions to the team, the Omonia of Cyprus man would have since used his calamitous goalkeeping to end the ambition of the Super Eagles in Cote d’ Ivoire. But today, the story is different as Nwabali has proved to be a better keeper within a short spell in the team. Although he is yet to reach the level of past heroes like Lawal Inuwa ‘Rigogo’, Peter Rufai and Vincent Enyeama, the Chippa United safehands is definitely on course. His historic four clean sheets at the AFCON should motivate him to do even more big things between the sticks for club and country.
As the highest ranked team left in the tournament, the Super Eagles are tipped by pundits to win the coveted AFCON trophy. However, a problem that may eventually rock the boat, if not nipped in the bud is gradually building up. It is no other thing than the bonus row said to be threatening the harmonious existence in the team. The Super Eagles players are said to be unhappy with the failure of the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to pay their match bonuses. The federation has since sneezed at such reports but there can’t be smoke without fire. This is the time to help the players concentrate fully on the task before them. Those concerned may be trying their best to pay the players but they must find a solution before the situation becomes big or serious enough to distract the team.
In spite of the murmurings in the team’s camp, I am reiterating my earlier position that the scent of the victory recorded by the Super Eagles in South Africa 2013 is smelling in Cote d’ Ivoire. Without a doubt, the signs of victory are boldly written on the wall such that even a Stevie Wonder can see and read without any interpretation from Daniel. What the Super Eagles are doing in Cote d’ Ivoire is similar to what they did to clinch their third AFCON title in South Africa. Even if it is luck that is driving the team, the Super Eagles are not looking like they will run out of luck any time soon. The luck seems to be increasing by the day.
After all, there is hardly any human achievement without a bit of luck. If divine providence made it happen 11 years ago, it can happen again in 2024. A Nigerian national team coach famously said that his boys would fumble and wobble into the finals of a particular tournament but the case of the present Super Eagles is different. They’re neither fumbling nor wobbling, so a fourth AFCON title is indeed loading for Nigeria.